The Internet is great when it comes to Do It Yourself (DIY) projects! Want to learn how to change a tire? YouTube it! Want to learn how to bake a cake? Instagram it! Want to learn which make-up goes best with your complexion? Facebook Live it! What about how to adopt? Well… not sure we can cover “How to Adopt” in a two-minute DIY video. But here’s the bottom-line: adoption is not a DIY job! You can’t learn about the whole “How to Adopt” process in two minutes. Training will take between 5-10 weeks. You can’t adopt a child in two days.
The entire process of certification/licensing can take anywhere from four to nine months. You cannot “get a kid” like you can a box of cereal off the top shelf at Target. Bringing a child home after you are matched with a child will take another few months or perhaps years, depending on whether you choose an infant or a teen, or whether you choose to adopt from overseas or here in the States. In other words, good things come to those who wait. So, that being said, here’s a basic snapshot of how to adopt a child:
Step #1 Prepare Yourself
Adopting a child takes a fair amount of preparation, not just physically but also emotionally and intellectually as well. It takes honest self-assessment and self-awareness to become a good adoptive parent. Adoption is a lifelong commitment and therefore should be treated as such. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my motivation? People adopt for many different reasons: community service, commitment to God, an alternative way to build their family during infertility.
- Can I care for a child who has experienced trauma? Many adopted children have suffered trauma from abuse, neglect, war, poverty, and homelessness. That trauma doesn’t just go away because they are adopted. Sometimes the adoption process is traumatic in and of itself. Because he or she may not be able to verbalize feelings, trauma will manifest itself in other ways through behaviors, illness, and developmental delays. Be sensitive to this and learn the child’s social history.
- Can I connect with a child who may not want to be connected to me? Many adopted children have attachment issues. Because their primary caregiver was not faithful in providing safety, the child lost all manner of trust. Therefore, may have issues trusting you. You will have to earn that trust by providing consistency, stability, and love and on a daily basis.
Step #2 Prepare Your Family
Adopting a child is a total family decision! Not just Mom. But also, Dad, the kids, and anyone else that may live in the home! Even your dog. Why is it a family affair?
First of all, your family needs to be prepared emotionally. Important questions a biological child ought to be asked is not only, “Can you share your room and toys with an adopted child?” but also, “Can you share Mom and Dad?” Your biological children need to know there will be times when Mom and Dad need to take the new child to the doctor or dentist, or may just need to spend more time with the new child because he or she has special needs. The adoptee did not get to have a stable home life. So now we—the adoptive family—need to help make up for lost time.
Secondly, there is the issue of birth order if you already have children. Do you want the adopted child to be the youngest? The pros are that it may be a natural fit, especially if the child is an infant. The cons are that your youngest child is no longer the “baby” and may resent being displaced. On the other hand, if you choose to adopt a child older than your youngest, you may need to be prepared for a certain level of bullying, which is natural. In any case, prepare your children for this new family dynamic.
Step #3 Choose an Adoption Agency
Your choice of adoption agencies will depend on whether you choose to adopt internationally or domestically. If you are interested in adopting internationally, the first thing you need to do is to choose a good adoption agency that has a positive track record of international adoptions. Research and get recommendations from others who have completed international adoptions. Make sure you choose the agency that will meet your needs, support you, and guide you through the process. If you choose to adopt privately or through the foster care system, look for an agency that is licensed in your state that has years of experience. Adoption.com has lots of adoption agencies to choose from!
Adoption agencies also write your home study report, which is the social history of you as an applicant. Furthermore, they prepare your adoption profile, assign you a social worker, communicate with the child’s social worker, communicate with the orphanage overseas (if you are pursuing an international adoption), help match you with a child available for adoption, and refer you to experienced attorneys. Adoption agencies are an invaluable resource!
Step #4 Prepare Your Home
Adopting a child is not quite like bringing home a new puppy. You need to prepare your home in a number of ways for your new kiddo!
First, depending on whether you choose private adoption or foster care adoption, you need to make sure your home meets all of the health and safety requirements of your agency and even your state. You may need to purchase things such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors, car seats for your vehicles, a new crib, and/or bunk beds. If you are adopting a sibling group, you may need to consider upgrading to a whole new vehicle altogether! Check with your adoption agency.
Secondly, you need to consider logistics. Where will the new child sit in the car? Where will the new child sleep? Where will he sit at the dinner table? Where will he go to school? Who will transport him to school? All of these things need to be discussed beforehand, so there are no surprises. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of prevention!
Step #5 Get Educated!
Making an educated decision on how to adopt is the best thing you can do. Getting expert training is the key to being prepared for what life has to throw at you! Being trained on issues such as trauma, grief, loss, the child welfare system, and common adoption issues are all good topics. Specific topics on special needs may be helpful also, such as ADHD, reactive attachment disorder, feeding issues, and sleep disorders. If you plan to adopt a child with developmental disabilities, it may be helpful to educate yourself on Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, etc. If you plan to adopt overseas, you should brush up on the nationality of your adoptee. If you plan to adopt a child from another culture, you should learn about transracial adoptions. Having a teachable spirit will go a long way toward having a successful adoption!
Step #6 Prepare Your Profile
One of the best ways for a pregnant mom to find your family is to prepare an adoption profile. An adoption profile contains photos and information that gives a pregnant mom a snapshot of what your family is like. In this profile, she will see what your family looks like, what your values are, what your lifestyle is like, and what type of child you can best care for. This is one of the best ways to be matched with a child available for adoption.
Step #7 Search Adoption Websites
Search through adoption websites. Your adoption agency should have one. A good adoption website contains photos of children available for adoption, a reunion registry, prospective adoption profiles, adoption directories, adoption guides, and a vast array of adoption articles on virtually any topic on adoption you wish to research.
Go through the photos and profiles of children available for adoption, and create a list of possible matches. Narrow it down to two to three children. Submit your interest request to your social worker. Request a detailed profile on the children. Allow the team to decide if it is a good match. The next part is perhaps the hardest part for many people. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for a call. Once that call comes and the match is made, things will start moving at a frantic pace!
Step #8 Choose an Attorney
At some point, you will need to hire a lawyer in order to complete a legal adoption. If you are completing an international adoption or a private infant adoption, this could be a major expense. However, if you choose foster care adoption, the state may appoint one to you free of charge, or you could have all expenses reimbursed. Check your state’s regulations. An attorney will help complete documents such as the Adoption Certification, the Petition to Adopt, and the Order of Adoption. An attorney can also help you to negotiate a Post Adoption Communication Agreement, which is the document regulating open adoptions. They will file these documents in court and represent you in all matters regarding the adoptive child.
Step #9 Celebrate Gotcha Day!
Gotcha Day is the first day that the child with whom you are matched enters your home. Gotcha Day is a celebration in the adoption community that recognizes the child is now a part of your forever family. In an international adoption, it may be the day you meet the child for the first time at the airport. In a domestic infant adoption, it may be in a hospital on the day the birth mom gives birth. In a foster care adoption scenario, it may be the day the child is placed as a foster child in your home. In any case, from the adoptive parents’ point of view, it is a great day!
In many states, there is a six-month waiting period between the time the child is placed, until the day the adoption finalization date is set. During this time, the job of the adoptive family is to connect, attach, and bond with that child. In all honesty, some children are easier to bond with than others, depending on their level of trauma. There may be an initial “honeymoon” period where everything is all peaches and cream. But after a while, there may be behaviors that present themselves that weren’t there before. Or an infant may be medically fragile and needs intensive medical attention on a daily or weekly basis. Or a child may be developmentally disabled and also in need of special attention.
Whatever the situation, all adopted children have special needs of one sort or another. That first day, the first week, and even the first six months may be rocky. If you feel that you need more time to adjust, consult your social worker.
Step #10 Celebrate Adoption Day!
The Adoption Finalization Day is the last step of the adoption journey! This can occur three to six months after initial placement or can come years afterward in a foster-to-adopt scenario. Adoption Day is a special day where friends and family are invited, everyone dresses up nicely, and professional photos may be taken. Your attorney will work on the final paperwork. The judge will swear everyone in. Then the attorney and/or the judge will ask everyone questions, including older children and teens. At this point, the adoptive parent may review and legally request a name change for the adoptee(s). Once that judge bangs his gavel and all legal documents are signed, you are officially an adoptive parent! Congratulations!
Please note: each adoption is different, as is each child and adoption scenario. Adoptions can vary according to the type of adoption you choose, the child you are matched with, the biological family, the state you reside in, and the agency you choose. The steps I’ve outlined may not even occur in that specific order. However, after years of professional experience and decades of personal experience with adoptions, what I’ve outlined is generally what a prospective adoptive parent can expect. Be flexible. Get educated. Once the adoption is complete, you will likely find it is an absolute blessing! Better than a two-minute DIY video!
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.